So this is it! You’ve decided that you want to learn to play guitar. Maybe someone you have seen has inspired you to play. Maybe you have always wanted to learn but never got around to it. It’s also possible that you are just bored and want to pick up a new hobby.
Whatever your reason, you are about to embark on a musical journey that will last for a lifetime. After playing for 13 years, I can say that deciding to learn guitar was one of the best decisions I have ever made. It has allowed me to express myself in ways that I thought were unimaginable.
But wait! You don’t have enough money to pay for a teacher. Heck, you can barely afford to buy a starter guitar.
Don’t fret! Not only can you learn how to play guitar but you can also figure out how to teach yourself guitar as well.
With the daunting amount of information and free lessons on the internet there has literally never been a better time to learn guitar on your own. And if you are smart about it, you can learn efficiently and progress quickly.
Class is about to begin. Let’s get started!
1. Where to start? Learn Music that Interests You
I remember when I started to learn to play guitar, I had an intense obsession with Stevie Ray Vaughn and his blues music. He was one of the biggest motivating factors in my early guitar days. I would spend hours learning his songs and trying to emulate him. It was such a blast to do.
If you don’t know where to start, analyze your tastes in music. Who plays the guitar in a way that really intrigues you? What sounds do you really enjoy the guitar making? Maybe it’s smooth Jazz solos. Or maybe it’s the relaxing nature of R&B guitar. Maybe you’re like me and really like the sound of finger style guitar.
Whatever your tastes are, it will be much more beneficial to your learning and progression as a guitarist if you play and learn styles that you are interested in. Have you ever seen that kid in your school whose parents forced them to play the Violin? Sure they get good, but they don’t have fun because they aren’t interested in the violin.
Learning guitar should be mostly about having fun. If you aren’t having fun or interested in what you’re learning, then you won’t learn nearly as well as someone who enjoys what they are learning about. Cater to your tastes and interests and you’ll be surprised how much fun you can have.
2. Have a Solid Foundation From the Beginning
This is such an important concept for beginning guitarists. This is one that I failed to grasp at the beginning of my guitar career. Creating something on a rocky foundation is setting yourself up for failure. But things that are created on a solid foundation are hard to topple. Let me give you a little story to help illustrate this point.
I studied Mandarin Chinese at a university for a year in China a few years ago. I was in a classroom of all foreigners including myself. When I started learning Chinese, I wanted to make sure my pronunciation was perfect. So what did I do? I went online and looked up how to learn perfect pronunciation.
I researched mistakes beginning Mandarin learners made. I researched tips to learn pronunciation better and quicker. I really had my work cut out for me. But what does this have to do with guitar? Well, a lot actually.
If I had learned these things after I just “dove into” learning Chinese, then It would have been extremely difficult to learn proper pronunciation after I had already developed muscle memory. I would have built my Mandarin skills on a rocky foundation.
This same principle can be applied to learning guitar. When starting out it can be easy to “dive in”, but it’s better if you work smart from the beginning. Learn proper technique from the get go.
Learn how much pressure you need to apply to the strings for effortless playing.
Research the pitfalls and mistakes that a lot of beginning guitarists make. Learn about the anatomy of the guitar. Understand why and how the guitar works the way it does.
Focus on your hand positioning, how to keep you wrist straight and things like that. Take it from me if you don’t believe me. When I started teaching myself I just dove right in. I figured whatever way I was doing it from the beginning was the way to do it all the time.
And while I wasn’t playing the guitar backwards or upside down, there were still many things I could have done better had I started with creating a solid technical foundation from the beginning instead of just doing everything “my way”.
I am still trying to break muscle memory of poor technique that I can trace back to the first few months of learning guitar. Trust me, don’t skip out on this aspect.
3. Practice Consistently
This would seem like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised how many people I have met that started learning the guitar and then gave up quickly. Maybe they didn’t want to work hard enough.
But the main thing I have noticed with beginning guitarists that fail is that they don’t want to practice. They want to be able to play like Slash or Jimi Hendrix from the beginning; which I understand.
But while you see Jimi Hendrix being awesome, you rarely hear about the tens of thousands of hours he practiced getting to his skill level. Not everyone wants to hear this, but you must practice every day. And I mean it.
Every. Single. Day.
“But Max I don’t have time to practice every single day!” Trust me, you do. I have a tip that really helps me get down to it. While this may not work for everyone, try setting a minimum time frame for practicing if you have difficulty finding practice time.
So instead of saying “I need to practice for 2 hours today”, say, “I will practice for at least 15 minutes today.” I don’t care how busy you are, you have at least 10-15 minutes you can set aside. And why do I say a minimum time frame?
Because it’s better to practice at least 10-15 minutes a day than to not practice at all. I have also found that by setting a minimum time frame for practicing, I usually end up playing longer than the initial time allotted. Most of the time much longer.
4. Don’t Forget to Train Your Ear!
I wrote about this in my last post, but this topic is so important that I decided to mention it again. Training your ear and being able to play or pick out songs by ear is one of the most important skills you can develop as a guitarist.
Don’t know what playing be ear means? Well, playing by ear is pretty much being able to listen to a song and then being able to play the song after listening to it.
You don’t need to look at sheet music, you don’t need to look at tabs or chords, you just hear it and can find the notes/chords/melodies on your guitar.
Not only will you be able to pick out songs, but this skill will make you more valuable in future jamming or band scenarios. People would much rather play with someone who has a good ear than someone who doesn’t.
I have met a few people in my life who had very good ears (that they worked hard for) and they always blew me away with what they could do.
They could pick out melodies, they could listen to a song once and then play it (sometimes in front of an audience), and their sense of musicality was just leagues above mine; it was magical to watch them play.
Obviously playing by ear isn’t the end all skill that you need to know to be good at guitar, but if you start to train your ear from the beginning, you will be miles ahead of any other guitarist out there who didn’t focus on their ear training; and other musicians will love you for it.
Ending on a High Note
The fact that you are reading this post means a lot. You have the desire and drive to learn something new, and you want to do it well. So I congratulate you for that. But I would like to mention something.
There is no “correct” way to learn the guitar, and don’t let anyone convince you that this is true. What works for me might not work for you, but I can at least push you in the right direction.
Maybe you already have a fantastic ear from playing other instruments. Maybe you have been away from the guitar for a long time and you need to start over. All that matters is that you are deciding to start (or continue) your guitar journey today, and that is an awesome decision!
So what can you do now? Get out your guitar and start practicing! Take these tips and use them. If they work for you, or discard them if they don’t.
I can’t tell you exactly how your guitar journey will be, but that is the beauty of playing music; nothing is for certain! Keep Pickin’.
What things helped you when you first started playing guitar? Did you run into any pitfalls? Any mistakes? Consider leaving a comment below and letting us know about your humble beginnings. Thanks!